Ednita Murray was ecstatic when her friend, Hannah Richards, told her she was pregnant. And soon after Richards’ announcement, Murray had one of her own.
“Seven weeks later I was like, ‘I’m pregnant,’” Murray said.
Murray and Richards exemplify the choices expecting mothers face across the country. Baby showers have been canceled. They’re grappling with how to monitor a pregnancy on their own, where to give birth — at home or a hospital — and who can come — a husband, a birthing coach or no one.
All of this makes pregnancy during a pandemic a somewhat solitary experience.
“In the beginning, you heard about all the cases around the world, but you never think it will come to close proximity,” Richards said.
There were 1,581 cases of COVID-19 in Missouri and 66 in Boone County as of Wednesday, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Social Services. Since it is a new illness, there is still little known about how COVID-19 could affect an unborn child. However, preliminary research shows that it acts similarly to influenza in terms of its risk to pregnant mothers.
“The data on COVID-19 and pregnancy is coming out slowly, but it doesn’t appear to contradict any of the previous data we have,” Dr. Melissa Terry said.
Terry practices obstetrics at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia.
“Moms are at higher risk at having complications as a result of a respiratory infection than someone who is not pregnant,” Terry said.
This changes the way hospitals are addressing prenatal care. University of Missouri Health Care system announced March 19 it would be limiting elective and non-emergent procedures.
“It has cut out about four of our standard prenatal appointments,” Terry said.
All necessary in-person procedures are still happening. However, physicians are trying to consolidate ultrasounds and filling the gaps with telehealth appointments to decrease the risk of infection to patients and staff.
Murray and Richards are feeling the effects of this differently.
Murray’s pregnancy is considered high risk. She had a hemorrhage while giving birth to her first child less than a year ago, and is now at higher risk for hemorrhage for her second.
“Under normal circumstances we should be monitoring the baby every two or three weeks,” Murray said.
Now 24 weeks pregnant, she’ll go eight weeks between her last ultrasound and her next.
She’s doing what all other mothers are being advised to do — counting kicks.
Murray has the benefit of being a registered nurse. She knows a mother is supposed to feel her baby move two or three times a day, and how to use a fetal Doppler to monitor the baby’s heartbeat from home.
“Any time you go into the hospital, it’s more exposure,” Murray said.
This is something at the front of Richards’ mind as well. Although she is considered low risk, this is her first pregnancy.
“This is a totally unknown world for me,” Richards said.
With her due date approaching at the end of May, she’s spending her days cleaning and fighting cabin fever. Many symptoms she experienced early in her pregnancy are resurfacing, like nausea and headaches.
She’s also beginning to have Braxton Hicks contractions, a tightening of the muscles in the uterus that usually happen in the second and third trimesters. She’s due to deliver at Boone Hospital Center, but has also been limiting her in-person appointments.
“For the most part I stay pretty calm,” Richards said. “When I do have weird feelings, I get inside my head. It’s not fun to feel … scared to go to the hospital now. If it’s not a real thing, I don’t want to risk it.”
Hurry, get ready, wait
The pair didn’t expect to be pregnant under these conditions. No one did.
“We’re progressing with our pregnancies as we would have 20 years ago,” Murray said.
Terry has been practicing obstetrics since 2000. She says Murray is right. Prenatal care has changed during that time period.
“We do a lot more ultrasounds than we used to 20 years ago both for monitoring the baby’s condition and additionally predicting any conditions that might arise during pregnancy,” Terry said.
Although she sympathizes for first-time moms and those without medical training, like Richards, Murray said only performing procedures that are absolutely necessary may not be a bad thing.
“In a normal woman, OB care should be treated as being holistic, very normal,” Murray said. “Nothing is wrong with the woman. She’s just pregnant.”
That’s not to minimize how extraordinary it is to be pregnant during a pandemic. Terry compares it to waiting or a hurricane to hit. She lived in Washington D.C. during Hurricane Sandy. She knows what it feels like to hurry, get ready, then wait.
“Everything is fine, but people are in line at the store to buy gas cans for their generators,” she said. “You see utility trucks from 1,000 miles away roll into town and everybody is just getting ready for it to happen.”
So, Murray and Richards are getting ready. They are taking a hard look at their birth plans, knowing that things might be very different when it’s time to implement them. They clean. They talk to their moms, and they hope for the best for themselves and each other.
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